For 50 years, people have gathered each summer in Ontario's Algonquin National Park to listen to the wolves. Natasha Haverty went along for this year's howl, joining thousands of tourists who made the trip on the off change of hearing the Eastern Timber Wolf howling in the wild.
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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
It's August, and that means a lot of us are looking for something out of the ordinary to do. And every August for the past 50 years, people from all around the world have made the journey to Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario to hear the howl of the eastern timber wolf, once a ubiquitous sound in the wild. Reporter Natasha Haverty sends this postcard.
RICK STRONKS: OK. How many people are here from outside Canada and the U.S.? Look at that. Amazing.
NATASHA HAVERTY, BYLINE: Chief naturalist Rick Stronks stands in Algonquin Park's outdoor theater in front of more than a thousand visitors who sit on wooden benches that funnel down towards the stage. The last rays of sun poke through the spruce forest as more people continue to arrive.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
HAVERTY: All of these people have come here on the chance - not a promise, but the chance that tonight they may get to hear some wild wolves.
STRONKS: Algonquin Park really is this vast wilderness. It's trees, rocks, lakes, rivers - that's really what this area is about. It's huge.
HAVERTY: Rick says about 200 wolves - 25 packs - live here in the park. But a couple of factors make these people's odds better than they might sound: The park naturalists know that five of those packs live right along a highway that cuts through a corner of the park. They also know that August is when the adult wolves go off to hunt, leaving their pups alone for long stretches of time.
STRONKS: They're part of this pack. They've got their voices. Often what happens, when we howl, it's the pups that first respond. And then the adults all kick in and everybody just starts howling.
HAVERTY: Fifty feet over the highway, the man who will be tonight's lead howler hides at the edge of the forest, waiting. Of the 116 public howls the park's had in 50 years, naturalist emeritus Ron Tozer has only missed 10. He sits on the ground, resting his elbows on his knees, and looks down at the mile-long line of people and cars.
RON TOZER: This is the big time. This is like going to the World Series or the Super Bowl. I mean, and this is as good as it gets for a park interpreter.
HAVERTY: The sky is bright tonight: thin clouds spread out the light of a first quarter moon. Across the road to the north is the abandoned beaver dam where naturalists know some wolf pups have been hanging out. People lean against their parked cars on the side of the road, waiting for Ron to begin.
IAN: Copy that, Rick. We are about to begin the first howling sequence. Whenever you're ready, Ron.
(SOUNDBITE OF HOWL)
HAVERTY: Ron howls alone three times, but there's no answer. Then another naturalist steps in, and he and Ron howl together, imitating a pack. The answer comes, but it's not from the beaver dam - the wolves are far away.
(SOUNDBITE OF HOWLS)
HAVERTY: None of the people make a sound; they're just listening, even after the last howls disappear back into the night. For NPR News, I'm Natasha Haverty. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.